Q: My 94 year old great aunt recently showed me a U.S. Thrift card issued in 1917. To redeem, sixteen 25-cent thrift stamps had to be attached. She wondered if this is worth anything to collectors.
Bill, Broken Arrow, OK

A: I know that the card is from WW I, but let's jump to World War II for an analogy that many readers will understand.

During the second World War, citizens on the home front were issued ration books. Stamps from those books allowed them to purchase sugar or other scarce items - when they were available.

Although now over 50 years old, those ration books are still plentiful. Dealers who try to sell them consider themselves lucky to get $5 apiece per book.

On the other hand, a red, white and blue silk handkerchief from the same period, with a large red "V" in the center, is $35 to $45. Why? Graphics. Color. A vibrant patriotic theme. Qualities neither the ration book nor the thrift card display. Smart collectors know that those three themes are important to those who collect items from the homefront.

World War I items are avidly collected, but military items and signature homefront emblems are what collectors want. Because of its age, your thrift card is worth more than $5, but not significantly more. It is, however, a nice memento of a historic period.

Desired World War I items are already prohibitively expensive. With the 60th anniversary of Pearl Harbor and WW II approaching, the second war is becoming increasingly collectible. Now that recent books (Tom Brokaw's is one) and films such as "Saving Private Ryan" have focused attention on the second war, the business of collecting memorabilia from that period is booming.

Good militaria from WW II is always in demand. But now that has become pricey. Many collectors have turned to homefront memorabilia, the everyday items that express the upbeat, "we're all in this together" feel of the period.

"It was a time of good feelings," says San Francisco homefront collector Martin Jacobs. "We all felt good then, and we all stuck together." Everyday items take center stage in homefront collecting. It was a period when patriotic themes were inserted into the most mundane objects, even postcards.

Today, a Coke bottle dated 1941 to `45 can bring up to $100. Add another $50 if the contents are intact. A victory sugar spoon, with a cutout "V" in the bowl to remind users that sugar was precious, cost 10 cents back in 1942. Now, Jacobs pegs value at $350, because it is rare.

Anything patriotic or with flag colors is popular. Items that poke fun at the enemy are sought; the dumber they look, the better. A $195 "Burn the Axis" ashtray set features caricatures of Hitler, Tojo and Mussolini as a skunk, rat and buzzard.

After the Tom Hanks "Ryan" movie, telegrams exploded. "It's what they say that counts," said Jacobs. One notifying that a son is POW is $200. Ordinary messages go for $20.

The future looks bright for homefront collecting. "The kids are picking up on Grandpa's stuff, and it's only going to grow," he added.

FYI: "World War II Homefront Collectibles" by Martin Jacobs is $22.95 from Krause. Find him at mjacobs784@aol.com or P.O. Box 22026, San Francisco, CA 94122.

BOOK IT! "For the Boys: The Racy Pin-Ups of World War II" by Max Allan Collins ($39.95 from Collectors Press) is basically an oversize coffee-table scrapbook of early 1940s pin-up beauties by artists such as Petty, Vargas, Armstrong and Mozert. There's no particular organization and not a lot of explanation let alone an index, but it is attractive.

"Remember Pearl Harbor Collectibles", another gem by Frank Arian and Martin Jacobs due out in the fall. Watch for it!



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